Writers and Uncertainty

Bernard Malamud once said, “Teach yourself to work in uncertainty.” I’d wager that at some point in the development of our craft, most of us have believed we had to know exactly where we were going with a piece of writing. In some instances, we were right. I’ve heard plenty of writers say they can’t begin a piece until they know the last move it will make, and in some cases, the last line. I’ve never been one of those writers, which isn’t to say that I devalue those who employ this strategy. I’m convinced there’s no one way to do [...]

By | 2018-01-08T08:49:49+00:00 January 8th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

A New Year for Writers: Tips for Getting through the Cold Spells

As 2017 comes to an end, much of the country finds itself in the midst of a brutal cold snap: temperatures near zero or below, snow, wind. Here in central Ohio we have three and a half inches of snow on the ground. We won’t be above freezing for more than another week. After a few mild winters, we find ourselves pole-axed by this return to a more expected weather pattern, but really why should we be surprised. Face it, we’ve been here before and will be again. Winter will give way to spring. By summer, we’ll have forgotten the [...]

By | 2018-01-01T09:23:30+00:00 January 1st, 2018|Uncategorized|2 Comments

If “If’s” and “But’s” Were Candies and Nuts

It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m thinking of something my father always liked to say: “If ‘if’s’ and ‘but’s’ were candies and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas. How could he not pay attention to the way possibilities often disappoint us after the farming accident that cost him both of his hands—the accident he could have prevented if only he’d shut down his tractor’s power take-off before trying to clear his picker’s shucking box of corn. That simple safety procedure would have stopped the snapping rollers in the shucking box from spinning, and, therefore, they never would have trapped one [...]

By | 2017-12-24T11:01:56+00:00 December 24th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Workshop Table Is a Welcome Table

Dusk comes early this time of year out in the country. Across the barren fields, pole lights come on in farm yards. Down a stretch of gravel road, headlights crest a hill and sweep across the horizon. Down lanes, lights fill the windows at houses, and sometimes I’m tempted to drive toward them, to knock on a door, to say, when someone answers, “Thank you for keeping the lights burning. Finally, I’m home.” Tonight, I saw the lights at a church set back from the road, and I knew that folks were gathering for Sunday services. As I drove past, [...]

By | 2017-12-18T07:44:49+00:00 December 18th, 2017|Uncategorized|6 Comments

Ten Truths a Writer Needs to Accept

We’re at the end of another semester here at Ohio State University. I’ve gathered revisions from the students in my fiction workshops, and I’m starting to read through them. I’m celebrating the victories and pointing out the battles yet to be won. One student writes to say she’s getting comfortable with the messiness of the revision process. Then, this morning, I encounter this quote from Dostoyevsky: “Originality and a feeling of one’s own dignity are achieved only through work and struggle.” Exactly. As I’ve said before, writing is a  life-long apprenticeship and past success has little bearing on future achievement. [...]

By | 2017-12-11T04:10:00+00:00 December 11th, 2017|Uncategorized|10 Comments

Mystery and Reversal: The Art of a Story’s Middle

I’m thinking today particularly about those of us who write short stories. I know from my own experience, as well as from that of my students, that we often begin a story with a good deal of enthusiasm only to find it faltering in the middle. We spend so much time talking and thinking about the beginnings and endings of stories that we neglect strategies for what to do between the two. This is a post, then, about what to do in the middle of a short story. We first have to think about what the middles of our stories [...]

By | 2017-12-04T08:01:27+00:00 December 4th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Shaping a Sentence

I’ve had a request to say some more about the process by which writers begin to internalize the artistic choices other writers make. For me, this process begins with the way in which I read other writers’ work. When I read, I’m constantly thinking about how a writer does what he or she does on the page. I’m interested in larger concerns such as characterization or structure, but today I want to focus on smaller, sentence-level choices and the effects they create. I’ve said before on this blog that a writer has to read with an eye toward how something [...]

By | 2017-11-27T08:00:45+00:00 November 27th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Layers of Memoir

(In honor of Thanksgiving week, I’ve decided to rerun this section from my book, Telling Stories: The Craft of Narrative and the Writing Life, and with it to issue an invitation for you to let me know if there’s something particular you’d like me to talk about—some issue of craft, or some thoughts on how to keep doing the work we need to do. I’m at a point where I think I need such requests, so I can make sure that my posts are being helpful. So, please don’t be shy. Let me know what’s on your mind, and I’ll [...]

By | 2017-11-20T07:52:29+00:00 November 20th, 2017|Uncategorized|8 Comments

The Sound at the End: Narrative and Music

Each night before bed, Cathy turns on the dishwasher and sets the security alarm. I listen to the  whir of water, the beeps of the alarm. As we drift off to sleep, there’s the hum of traffic from the nearby highway, or the sound of our cat, Stella, jumping onto the bed. At the end of our days, I pay attention to sounds. The dishwasher is a very polite dishwasher, its whir and hum soothing. The security alarm is more brash. Its steady beeps get more frantic as it comes closer and closer to arming itself. The sound of Stella’s [...]

By | 2017-11-13T07:48:49+00:00 November 13th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Daylight Saving Time

The change to Daylight Saving Time has me in a pensive mood this Sunday. Last night, at a book club who’d read my novel, Late One Night, we talked about why people just can’t seem to get the fact that no matter how different we are, we’re all connected. We all share in the responsibility of a common community—the human community. What can writers do, someone asked, to invite more people to consider these facts? Maybe we can tell our stories with specificity and with empathy. Maybe we can dramatize characters and events in a way that invites an examination [...]

By | 2017-11-06T08:27:56+00:00 November 6th, 2017|Uncategorized|14 Comments